Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Urban Wild West: From Fences to Saint Francis and back.

As my experience downtown continues, I find myself asking a lot more questions about the Lord, about people, about obedience and faith and what they look like when they're walked out. I was hoping to have more answers than questions, but no such luck... yet.

The questions that keep cropping up in my mind are always triggered by the inner city squalor that we deal with: prostitution, drug addiction, unemployment, homelessness, alcoholism, domestic violence... its like a microcosmic example of all the darkness and despair to which a human being is capable of giving himself. These problems are exactly what the Department has been trying to alleviate... but it's not something that a government can do. (The notion of the perfectability of the human race is a dangerous one that I reject as idealistic utopianism... and we can probably get into that later.) The best they can do is recognize a legitimate need and attempt to coordinate a sincere and concentrated solution. As a Christian, I serve a God whose very Existence and Presence restores and redeems and renews, whose mercy is the hope of the drug addict, the prostitute, the pimp, the gang members, the fatherless... how would the Lord have us engage in the dangerous world around us? Are we to put ourselves out there, trusting that He will protect us? Do we lead in the vanguard, knowing we have physical and spiritual adversaries that cannot be shut out forever? Do we face the danger that must be made to back down as we stand on the righteousness of our mighty God? Do we tear down our fences as an act of fearlessness, a refusal to be cowed by gangsters? When do we reach out to the aggressor with his knife to our throats, as David Wilkerson did when held up at knife point by Nicky Cruz? (he said, "You can cut me into a thousand pieces, and every piece will love you just the same"... Wow. I know myself, and I'm not quite there yet....) How do we speak to their broken humanity, offering love in the face of brutality, calling their souls out of darkness? When do we flee? When do we draw the line?

Mercy seasoned with justice seems to be the answer... but it's a frightening one. Evil exists, and sometimes humans give themselves over to it. How do we respond to blatant evil? Child molesters, pimps, rapists? Even then, those are just the ones whose hopelessness and depravity has gone public. How about those who keep their despair to themselves? Who self-medicate and merely survive every day? Living as shadows? These are the ones whose actions make community revitalization both necessary and incredibly difficult. I believe no one is too far gone to be reached by the mercy of Christ... to me, mercy is absolutely one of God's most beautiful and enthralling and glorious attributes. I'm captivated by this element of God's character. I can't adequately express how I love what it does to, and for, the human soul. It's restorative. It breathes life to dry bones. It is Christ! But after watching the films Changeling and Gone Baby Gone... which horrified me, and made me want to adopt every child in the foster care system as well as personally take out every child molester, Boondock Saints style... I can honestly say that my mercy has a very finite ending point. I simply don't have it in me to extend mercy to those who prey on the innocent and defenseless. And that is why God is God, and I am not.

Two passages come to mind as I wrestle with these questions. We all know Ephesians 6:12 "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." I try to remember this in times of anger, when I find myself furious with another human... which happens more frequently than I'd like to admit. Then there's the Prayer of St. Francis that I would do well to whisper (when I would like nothing more than to shout my vile frustrations):

"Lord, make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life."

What sort of boldness would we be walking in if we, as Christians, embraced this tender merciful righteousness? If we acted as true salt and light, how would the world heal? If we faced down evil, standing in the righteousness of the power of the Most High God rather than our own self righteousness, how fearfully would it retreat? What if we stopped living on the defensive, vaulted the fences, and started pressing forward into the Kingdom of God?

1 comment:

orangeweezel said...

I think we would walk in a new boldness if we stopped being so selfish and reached out to people as if our lives don't really matter. If we think about it, our lives don't really matter now that we're saved. It is only our salvation that we must hold on to. All the people have is their lives, and nothing more. What soul is worth more than our physical bodies?